Spiritual Christianity

Spiritual Christianity (Russian: духовное христианство) in the Russian Empire, and its successors and diaspora, is a type of Christian thought associated with various sects - outside the established Russian Orthodox Church - "which rejected ritual and outward observances, believing in the direct revelation of God to the inner man".[1] Its adherents are called Spiritual Christians (Russian: духовные христиане) or, less accurately, "Molokans" in the United States, often confused with "Doukhobors" in Canada. (Molokane proper comprised the largest and most organized of many Spiritual Christian sects at the beginning of the Soviet Union).


Pavel Milyukov traced the origins of Spiritual Christianity to the Doukhobors, and believed it reflected developments among Russian peasants similar to those underlying the German Peasants' War in the German Reformation.[2] Many Spiritual Christians embraced egalitarian and pacifist beliefs, considered politically radical views by the Imperial government. It deported some groups to internal exile in Central Asia; others escaped suppression to emigrate to North America.[3]


Spiritual Christians believe that the validity of an individual's observance of God's Law was suppressed and prohibited as Israel became politicized; they believe that Jesus Christ promoted the New Covenant of Jeremiah by sacrificing his life to initiate the Messianic Era. The religion of the Spiritual Christians encourages individual spiritual interpretation and substitute observances of Biblical Law, with individual approaches to be understood and respected by all. Spiritual Christians have taken an inclusive approach to Christianity; they embrace all relevant aspects of the collective human experience which can be related to timeless Biblical themes.

Rejecting bureaucratic church hierarchy, they considered their religious organization as a homogeneous community, without division into laymen and clergy with respect to all but practical understanding of the Biblical tradition. Because of their rejection of hierarchy and authority, the Imperial government considered them suspect. In the modern era, some Spiritual Christian churches hardened their own doctrine and practices, reducing the flexibility first found in this sect.

Spiritual Christian sects

Among the sects considered to practice Spiritual Christianity are the Doukhobors,[1] Molokans,[1] Subbotniks, Pryguny (Jumpers), Dukh-i-zhizniki, Khlysts,[1] Skoptsy,[1] Ikonobortsy (Icon-fighters, "Iconoclasts" and Zhidovstvuyushchiye (Жидовствующие: Judaizers). These sects often have radically different notions of "spirituality" and practices. Their common denominator is that they sought God in "Spirit and Truth" (Gospel of John 4:24) rather than in the Church of official Orthodoxy or ancient rites of Old Believers. Their saying was "The church is not within logs, but within ribs". The movement was popular with intellectuals such as Tolstoy. Nikolai Leskov was also drawn to Spiritual Christianity after visiting Protestant Europe in 1875.[4]

Some of these sects were also considered Judaizing, as were the Subbotniks, who adopted certain Mosaic practices, such as observance of the Sabbath on Saturday, circumcision of boys, and, in some cases, ritual slaughter. They were ethnic Russians who left Orthodox Christianity but they did not identify as Jews.

Separate from Spiritual Christianity were other strands of Russian sektanstvo ("sectarianism" in the sense "splitting into sects" rather than "sectarian bigotry") including the Old Believers and "Evangelical Christianity".[5]

See also



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Camfield (1990) p.694 fn.4
  2. Norman R. Yetman (Summer 1968). "Doukhoborism and Reitalization". Kansas Journal of Sociology. Allen Press. 4 (3): 153. JSTOR 23255160.
  3. Dunn, Ethel; Stephen P. Dunn (November 1978). "The Molokans [Molokane, Pryguny, and Dukh-i-zhizniki] in America". Dialectical Anthropology. Springer. 3 (4): 352–353. JSTOR 29789944.
  4. Lottridge, Stephen S. (Autumn 1974). "Nikolaj Leskov's Moral Vision in the Prolog Tales". The Slavic and East European Journal. American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. 18 (3): 252–258. JSTOR 306256.
  5. Berdyaev (1916)

External links

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